Upon what meat have you fed
that you can…
Athlete, yes; scholar, no
Most people are interested in connecting with
the past, but our view of the past must be clear-eyed. A “Hall
of Fame,” such as the new Athletics
Hall of Fame (October/03) at Chicago, implies that its honorees
are worthy of emulation. However, some members of this hall were
far from being models for the scholar-athlete.
An extreme example is Walter Eckersall, who—as
the selections committee surely realized from Robin Lester’s
(MAT’66, PhD’74) fine book, Stagg’s University:
The Rise, Decline, and Fall of Big-Time Football at Chicago—was
a non-student athlete, never encouraged to pursue anything other
than athletics. Eckersall was held up as a hero during his years
of stardom—and promptly expelled at the end of his eligibility.
His sad career reflects shamefully on the University, as well as
on Harper, Stagg, and Judson, who exploited Eckersall until he was
no longer of use. But Eckersall’s listing in the Hall of Fame’s
Web site speaks only of his athletic triumphs, ignoring the context
of his disgraceful student career.
It is appalling if the University truly considers
Eckersall a role model—if the University really wants to return
to the bad old days of big-time sports. In a recent letter to College
alumni, John Boyer asserted that “Chicago had never diverged
from the insistence that student athletes were students first and
foremost.” If by “never” Boyer means “never
in its history,” that is a serious misrepresentation; Stagg’s
era was one in which student athletes were athletes first, and sometimes
students not at all. In honoring Eckersall, the University seems
to be implying that that was fine, and would be fine again.
The University must candidly face its past if
it is to use that past as a guide. What is meant by including someone
in the Athletics Hall of Fame, and, in particular, by including
Eckersall? Will the University acknowledge its true past, or is
the hall to be propaganda and fraud? What message does Mr. Randel
wish to send?
Robert Michaelson, SB’66
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